By Kurt Anthony Krug
When actress Morena Baccarin chooses a role, she needs to not only like the material, but also be inspired by something in the story and/or the character.
“I try to do good material, things that interest me – at least I thought that way because you never know how things are gonna turn out – but I really try to follow my gut,” explained Baccarin, who lives in Los Angeles with filmmaker Austin Chick (XX/XY), her husband of more than three years.
Baccarin has made her mark in Hollywood by playing strong and nuanced characters, most notably military wife Jessica Brody on Homeland – for which she was nominated for an Emmy – and Inara Serra on the cult sci-fi/Western Firefly and its big-screen sequel Serenity. Other notable roles include Anna on V, Adria on Stargate SG-1, Erica Flynn on The Mentalist, Rachel on The Red Tent, Isobel Swift on The Good Wife, Black Canary on Justice League Unlimited, Cheetah on Batman: The Brave and The Bold, and Talia al Ghul in the straight-to-DVD animated movie Son of Batman.
Currently, she provides the voice of the computer Gideon on The Flash and has a recurring role as Dr. Leslie Thompkins on Gotham, which is a Batman prequel series. It was recently announced Baccarin will be in the Deadpool movie, with Ryan Reynolds reprising the titular role from 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which is slated for a 2016 release.
“Certain characters and certain stories move you, and you feel you can tell a story and you’re inspired by them – those are always the best jobs,” she said.
In the Batman comics, Leslie Thompkins is a psychiatrist who serves as a surrogate mother to Bruce Wayne after his parents are murdered. She also is aware that Bruce and Batman are one and the same.
“I was told by Bruno (Heller, Gotham creator) that they weren’t sticking too closely to the original mythology… I did look at who she was and what she meant in the story. Beyond that, I’m along for the ride,” explained Baccarin. “I had to get on a plane the day after I got the job. I didn’t have a lot of time to do any research. Being the world of Gotham, I didn’t feel I needed to be incredibly accurate with all of the medical stuff. The world that we’re portraying is a little bit more fluid – I’m not too concerned about that.”
On Gotham, Leslie hasn’t encountered Bruce as of yet. She is the current love interest of Det. Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie), the lead character.
“I’ve seen the show and I thought it was really great. I loved how the world’s portrayed – I think they’re doing a really great job of reinventing it and, at the same time, keeping it loyal to franchise. I like the interactions I’ve had with the Jim Gordon character, and there’s potential there for some fun,” said Baccarin. “(Leslie and Jim) connected quickly. She’s a bit of a breath of fresh air in a world that’s so corrupt and so downtrodden. She’s strong, she’s smart, she doesn’t take any shit, and she’s supportive of his desire to uncorrupt Gotham. I think that unifies them. They have a lot of chemistry together, so it’s a natural progression to what I think will become a good relationship.”
As of now, Baccarin’s role is a recurring one. It is unclear that she will become a regular on Gotham, which has been renewed for a second season.
“There’s a chance, yeah. We’ll figure it out. Next season’s a possibility,” she said. “I’m committed to as many as they want to use me this season – it’s really up to them.”
Baccarin commented on all the different Batman roles she’s played, as well as doing voiceover work.
“It’s really fun. I feel like I sorta joined the Batman family,” said Baccarin. “It’s really nice to exercise a different part of you, a different side of you (regarding voiceover work).”
On Justice League Unlimited, Black Canary and the Huntress (Amy Acker) didn’t get along. In the episode “Grudge Match,” the two Leaguers put aside their differences and worked together to save several of their teammates – including Wonder Woman – who were hypnotized into fighting each other in Metabrawl, which are underground cage matches.
At the end of the episode, Canary and Huntress have a final rematch. The episode fades to black with the two charging each other, grinning big, leaving the audience to draw their own conclusions about the winner.
However, Acker has a definitive answer regarding who won.
“I did, of course,” said Acker, laughing.
Baccarin actually agreed with her.
“You know what? I like Amy; she can have that one,” replied Baccarin, laughing.
Born in Brazil to journalist Fernando Baccarin and actress Vera Setta, Baccarin is the oldest of two. Her family immigrated to Greenwich Village, NY when she was 7 because her father was transferred. She speaks fluent Portuguese.
Baccarin wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become an actress. She attended the New York City Lab School for Collaborative Studies – where her future Homeland co-star Claire Danes was her classmate – and the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. In 2000, she graduated from New York’s prestigious Juilliard School.
“(Setta) was very supportive. It’s really rare that you have a parent who’s especially excited that you want to be an actress,” said Baccarin. “She was really happy I was following in her footsteps and has been incredibly supportive.”
Baccarin made her big screen debut in 2001’s Perfume, starring Jeff Goldblum and Peter Gallagher. It was in 2002 when she landed her breakout role – and arguably her best-known role – as Inara on Firefly, the creation of Joss Whedon, who created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as well as directed 2012’s Marvel’s The Avengers and May’s Marvel’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Occurring in the year 2517, Firefly chronicled the adventures of Capt. Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), a Unification War vet, and his ragtag crew of misfits on the starship Serenity who live on the fringes of outer space doing whatever they need to do in order to survive.
Inara was a Companion, the 26th century’s answer to an escort girl. Her presence lent a degree of legitimacy and social acceptance the crew would not have otherwise. There was also sexual tension between her and Mal, but both refused to act on their feelings, wanting to keep their relationship professional.
“(Fillion’s) great. He’s such a sweetheart. He’s like the brother you’ve never had and never wanted to have,” said Baccarin, laughing. “He was a jokester and prankster but had a really big heart. (Firefly) was my first job and I didn’t know how really good I had it until I went on to do other jobs after that; it kinda fell short because he was the one who kept everybody going and in good spirits.”
Baccarin admitted she had second thoughts about accepting the role of Inara.
“Originally when I heard about the project, I thought it was really cool. Then I heard about my character who is essentially a prostitute in outer space – I was like, ‘I don’t think I want to do this part.’ I met with Joss and we talked about who she was. I think she was really the heart of that family. It was joy that I was lucky enough to portray that role. Joss did such a good job of making this character who was an outsider and also this sort of glue that kept everybody together on that ship. It was really a privilege to do that,” she recalled fondly.
At the 2008 DragonCon, Baccarin admitted during a panel that Inara was dying, something that was hinted at in the 8th episode “Out of Gas.”
“That was her big secret. That was why she joined Serenity to begin with because she could not quote-unquote form any attachments, which – of course – is exactly what she did,” said Baccarin. “She didn’t realize she was going to be needing people who would become her family and fall in love (with Mal), as much as she would hit to admit it. The intention of her joining that group of bizarro characters was to be a loner.”
As to what Inara was dying of, Baccarin doesn’t know because the show didn’t last that long. When FOX originally aired Firefly in September 2002, the episodes were aired out of order (most notably, the 2-hour pilot aired last). Due to low ratings, it was cancelled in December 2002 after 11 of the 14 completed episodes airing.
However, Firefly had garnered a strong and vocal cult following. Coupled with strong DVD sales (where fans got to see the show in its proper chronological order), fans – called Browncoats – uniting on the Internet, and Whedon’s pitch to sell Firefly as a movie, Serenity was released in 2005.
Despite word of mouth buzz and critical acclaim, Serenity did poorly at the box office, making $25.2 million. Still, Serenity did well on DVD, only strengthening its cult following – something that Baccarin’s amazed by to this day.
“I’m always amazed. Still am. It was such a show that was so dear to my heart – to all of our hearts,” confessed Baccarin. “I’m still baffled by why people still talk about. It’s been a long time ago and there’s no new material and yet it seems to dominate the sci-fi conversation – I think that’s great.”
The adventures of the Firefly/Serenity characters continue in the Whedon-blessed comic books published by Dark Horse Comics. These stories occur after Serenity. In the graphic novel Serenity: Leaves on the Wind, Mal and Inara finally gave into their feelings for one another.
“I didn’t know they were a couple,” admitted Baccarin. “I did know that their story continued, but I don’t keep up with them.”
– More with Morena Baccarin: Looking back on Homeland
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